Balancing work, household responsibilities, community and church obligations, social interaction and personal pursuits with the care of children is a challenge for most parents. For the single parent, the demands of life seem even more daunting because these parents are doing it without the help and support of a partner. Besides being overworked and underappreciated, single parents often come into the situation through death, divorce or separation all of which require abrupt adjustments in routine and lifestyle. For example, a spouse who previously stayed home with the children now has to find employment and daycare, while the one who acted as breadwinner now has to take on more household and childrearing responsibilities. If both spouses worked, both will have to adjust to living on one income. Despite the long list of challenges involved in raising children as a single parent, there are ways to raise happy, well-adjusted children. The following ideas will help you manage the sometimes overwhelming responsibilities you face while keeping your sanity and your family intact.
1. Build a social network
Taking the time to develop friendships may seem difficult when your time is already so divided, but the benefits of doing this will greatly outweigh the cost. Friends will provide you with the emotional support that you are missing from a spouse. Different people with a variety of skills can help when you have an emergency or need help with something you don’t know how to do. For example, if your car breaks down having a friend with mechanical skills can be handy. You can also exchange babysitting favors with other single parents. Having regular contact with other adults in the same situation will help you gain new perspectives and provide a source of advice and comfort.
2. Be the leader in your family
Your children need firm boundaries in order to feel secure. Providing clear expectations and rules for your children will help establish a sense of order and safety in your home. Some single parents fall into the dangerous practice of giving too much power to their children. While all children should be treated with respect and involved in a certain amount of the decision-making, they are not your peers. Allowing children to occupy the same (or higher) position of authority as a parent can create a cycle of problems that will quickly careen out of control. Instead, maintain open communication with your children and allow them to express their feelings and opinions. Hold regular family meetings in which everyone discusses concerns and work toward solutions, but you have the final say.
Children need to know you will be there for them and that things will stay relatively constant. In order to do this you need to work toward building your own emotional well-being. Establish certain routines your children can depend on. Do what you must to provide an adequate income, and live within your means. Find a good daycare. Spend one-on-one time with your children and communicate your love for them. Be consistent in your discipline. Create family rituals. Whatever you can do to assure stability in your children's lives will help them feel secure and confident.
A. Lynn Scoresby, founder and president of My Family Track , First Answers , and Achievement Synchrony , and has been a marriage and family psychologist for more than 35 years. He has published more than 20 books and training programs.